Tag Archives: Great Lakes

War of 1812

In 1814 we took a little trip – Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’

Johnny Horton Battle of New Orleans youtube linkWe took a little bacon and we took a little beans

And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’

There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago

We fired once more and they began to runnin’

On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

The Americans won the Battle of New Orleans, but not the war.  The War of 1812 was ended by the Treaty of Ghent, signed December 24th 1814, and Canada was still Canada, not part of the US.  The Americans did get this wonderful song written by Jimmy Driftwood,Fort McHenry flag war of 1812 an Arkansas school teacher, and made a hit by Johnny Horton in 1959.  They also got their national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, written for the flag atop Fort McHenry that survived the British attack on Baltimore.  The 1814 Battle of Baltimore followed upon the burning of Washington DC, including the White House, by the British.

The Americans wanted to take over Canada and get Britain totally out of North America.  They thought it would be easy, with the British already involved in the Napoleonic Wars.  It didn’t quite work out.  But the British weren’t going to easily let go of more North American territory.  The UEL settlers of Upper Canada had made their political position clear when they left the United States after the War of Independence and they weren’t inclined Six Nations War of 1812 veterans phototo come under US rule again.  First Nations on both sides of the border, for the most part, fought with the British because they had promised a neutral Indian land in the mid-west.  One of them was John Smoke Johnson, a Mohawk chief from Six Nations near Brantford, maybe related through marriage to my family.  He’s on the left in this 1882 photo of the last Mohawk veterans of the War of 1812.

In the end, not much changed after 1814.  Geopolitical lines were restored to pre-war status in the Treaty of Ghent.  But Canada got a new sense of nationhood from fighting a war for our land.  The US didn’t lose or cede any land to the British, so claimed it as a map of Tecumseh's war 1811victory.  The First Nations did not get their promised land, which stayed in the hands of the US, and were not given an independent homeland elsewhere in Canada.  Some moved north to Canada, hoping for better conditions with their military allies.  By fighting with the British, they had burned their bridges with the American administration, and it came down even harder on them.  But the British and Canadian governments didn’t keep their territorial promises.  Having defeated US encroachment, Painting by Lossing of what Tecumseh may have looked like ca 1868Canada believed there was no longer need of First Nations as military allies.  They became irrelevant to Canadian plans and were treated either as “wards” to be cared for or obstacles to development.

Tecumseh, the Shawnee war leader and politician, had been the main force behind the plan for an independent homeland.  He was killed October 5th 1813 at the Battle of the Thames, near Chatham, Ontario.

West of London there is what’s now a beautiful wooded park.  It was the site of the Battle of Longwoods, where, this weekend May 5th and Battle of Longwood cairn near Delaware Ontario6th, there will be a reenactment of that battle.  I hope Tecumseh’s spirit watches over it and all the reenactments this centenary year – remembering what might have been, what should have been.

Goderich, Prettiest Town

Statue standing by courthouse, Goderich, after tornadoThe slogan of Goderich, on Lake Huron, is “The Prettiest Town in Canada.”  It’s never seemed like hyperbole to me.  Last Sunday, downtown Goderich was slammed by a tornado.  It devastated buildings, trees and vehicles.  A man was killed.

We had a cottage just south of Goderich when I was a kid.  Bluewater Beach was my favourite place.  Dad built me a tree house and I spent hours in it and prowling around in the woods.  Also hours at the beach – in the water, building sandcastles, picking up beachstones, on the hill up from the beach.

Aerial view of Goderich square, postcard 1984Then we’d go to town.  I loved the main street of Goderich – the square.  It’s more a circle around the beautiful courthouse in the middle, with huge trees and a bandshell.  Spokes go off all the way around, streets leading to the beach and other parts of town.

There was a five and dime on the square – we spent hours in there.  A glorious old hotel on one corner. I never went inside, but thought it was the most elegant building I’d ever seen.  Sometimes we’d swap Bluewater Beach for Goderich beach with its fine white sand.

We also went to the Maitland River at Benmiller.  We’d go in to the rock-bottomed river, St. Christopher's Beach at sunset, Oct. 2009lie in shallow pools of warm water or play in pockets of deeper water.

The old airport was a favourite stop, to visit the parrot who lived in the waiting room and talked a blue streak.  We’d drive along the industrial side of the harbour.  Sometimes just to look at the mountains of salt waiting to be loaded on ships.  Sometimes to go out in Dad’s boat fishing or just in the harbour steering around the huge Great Lakes vessels tied up.

Hindmarsh Horses

First time we went, to look at the cottage for sale, it was winter.  We heard sleighbells.  It seemed like a magic Christmas card, snow sparkling on the ground and evergreens, snowflakes falling.  It must be our imaginations, but our imaginations were all hearing the same thing.  And through the snow, we saw a horse-drawn wagon coming toward us.

The driver whoaed the horses and asked if we wanted to jump on.  Two Clydesdales were pulling a hay wagon full of kids and adults all bundled up.  Thermoses of hot chocolate were passed, people introduced themselves.  We rode around the small complex of streets, then people began jumping off at their respective cottages, saying “Thanks John, see ya later.”  We did the same thing when we got back to our car.

Angers' Retreat, cottage at Bluewater Beach 1961My parents bought the cottage and we went up in all four seasons.  Every winter, the horses would come through.  You’d hear the harness bells jingling, and run toward them and jump on the wagon.

The man with the horses was Mr. John Hindmarsh. His family had published The Star in Toronto.  I would walk out Bluewater Road to the highway where the Hindmarsh farm and another were kitty-corner from each other.  At both, the horses would amble over to the fence for handfuls of grass I’d pluck.

We referred to them as “the millionaires.”  I don’t know if they were in terms of bank balances.  But the late Mr. Hindmarsh certainly was in terms of generosity of spirit.  The Hindmarsh farm has been donated to the Ontario Farmland Trust and there are many walking trails and protected lands around Goderich thanks to the John Hindmarsh Environmental Trust Fund.

Goderich Rebuilding

Aerial view of Goderich town square after tornadoIf you’ve ever enjoyed driving around the square, or relaxed under the trees by the courthouse or on the beach, Goderich needs your help now.  You can donate to the Red Cross (1-800-481-1111 Canadian Disaster Relief), the Salvation Army, Perth-Huron United Way, Huron County SPCA or check out the open Facebook pages Goderich Help Link and Goderich Ontario Tornado.

Friday the 13th Port Dover

bike and sidecar, with dog, Port Dover, Friday the 13thBucket list item checked off.  The bikes at Port Dover.  Beautiful weather and the only Friday the 13th in all of 2011.  I was a little nervous about it, I get panicky in crowds.  I figured this was going to be a crowd.  And it was, but there were no humungous knots of humanity that you couldn’t get away from easily.

Friday the 13th Yorkie with a new HD hatIt was just about walking around, looking at bikes, talking to people about bikes and dogs.  Dogs got a lot of attention.

The whole thing seemed very well organized.  There was a parking lot in a field near Port Dover.  No problem getting a space.  School buses were waiting to be filled up with people.  The bus driver greeted us and coaxed Leo up the stairs.  He was nervous about it, but soon decided this was fun.  Lots of people petting him.

bike and side car, wrought iron frameBus dropped us in the centre of town, then it was just wowwowwow look at the beautiful bikes!  Regular bikes of all makes, but a lot of Harleys.  Bikes that were works of art in their paint jobs or their entire structure.  Bikes parked with ‘for sale’ signs on them.  Bike dealers.  Every kind of Harley merch you could want.  People wearing commemorative t-shirts from past PD13 events, from Sturgis and other Harley events and clubs.  Biker colours.   Cops on motorcycles, bicycles, foot and in patrol cars.  Almost no other cars on the streets.  Just bikes.

The whole downtown and lakefront was filled with bikes.  And people.  But it was easy to find a quiet shady spot for a little break, but you still could watch bikes.

Then when Charlie was looking like he was going to go in search of the Simcoe Humane Society booth (where we’d bought them scarves), we figured it was time to leave.  Found the bus stop again, buses were waiting.  Leo jumped right up the steps this time, and back to the parking lot.

Nearly home, we saw this sign just outside St. Thomas.  The road warriors passing along #3 Highway tomorrow are welcome at this house.  Nice.

Mabee’s Corners

My cousin Lynda Sykes wrote this about her visit to Mabee’s Corners many years ago, after reading about my ‘sightingof the road sign for it.  She graciously gave me permission to post it.  Lynda is the editor and collaborator of Charles Kipp’s WWII memoir Because We Are Canadians.

Mabee's Corners sign, Norfolk Co. ONEver since I can remember anything, I remember Grandma telling me many times with great pride how her family came to found Mabee’s Corners, which I vaguely knew was somewhere down around near Tillsonburg.

Grandma told me that her great-great-great (I don’t remember now how many “greats”) grandparents got married on the three-way crossroads of Mabee’s Corners.  There was nothing there at the time – just the intersection of the three roads.  She said the bride came from one direction, the bridegroom came from another direction, and the preacher came from the third direction.  They all met at the intersection and the preacher married them there at the crossroads.  After they were married, the young couple was looking for a place to settle, and so they decided to settle at that same crossroads.  And thus, they founded Mabee’s Corners.  Real romantic story, right?

I never saw Mabee’s Corners until I was a teenager, dating Wayne.  One Sunday, he and I were out driving and we were coming into Tillsonburg, kinda through the ‘back door’ from the south.  I saw this road sign that pointed to Mabee’s Corners, so many miles down the road.  I got all excited, and asked Wayne to turn around and follow that road.  As he did, I’m telling him with great pride about how my ancestors founded Mabee’s Corners, and relating Grandma’s romantic story to him.

Today, Mabee’s Corners looks very different from what it did then, almost 50 years ago.  Then, it was just a three-way stop.  It’s only in the last 20 years or so that they opened up what used to be barely a cowpath to make a fourth road running to the south, thus making it into a four-way stop.  Today, all the roads in the south country are paved, and several modern, tidy homes have been built in Mabee’s Corners.

Back then however, when I was happily telling Wayne Grandma’s wonderful romantic story, it was very, very different.  And it was March, when everything looks particularly bad and dirty and scrubby at best.

shack near Ky. Jefferson Davis monumentWe’re driving along, getting closer and closer to Mabee’s Corners, and we start seeing all these dilapidated tarpaper shacks along the road.  I remember one place in particular that had a sagging front porch with mud and junk everywhere.  Chickens roosting on the railings, while Ma and Pa Kettle (or maybe Mabee – haha!) sat in rocking chairs, with Pa in a straw hat smoking a pipe.  It was a scene straight out of Dogpatch!  A few yards more, and we found ourselves at the ‘famous’ three-way crossroads.  A country store was on our left – and to our right – were four or five more tarpaper shacks with junk strung everywhere.  Omigod!!!  It was “Hillbilly Central”!

Needless to say, I was stunned!  I had always wanted to see this place.  Wayne looked at me with such a smirk on his face and he started to laugh, “So this is the place your ancestors founded, eh?  Well, it looks like they’re still here.”  Well – we laughed and we laughed and we laughed.  It was at such odds with the romantic story I had just been telling.  For years and years, even after Mabee’s Corners got cleaned up, we could never drive through it on the way down to Judy and Fred’s without laughing.

Years later, after Grandma passed away, Mom found a newspaper clipping amongst her papers and keepsakes.  It was an article about the Mabee family, but it also gave some history regarding early pioneer culture and customs in this area.  It described the practice of marrying at a crossroads, like Grandma’s ancestors did.

Normally when a couple plans to marry, in order for the union to be legal, they either have to have their marriage certificate for at least Beverly Hillbillies, armedthree days before the marriage date or have the banns read aloud in church for three Sundays before the blessed event.  However, back then, if one was in a hurry, there was another way.  If neither of those two criteria had been met, a marriage could still be considered legal if 1) the marriage took place at midnight, 2) the bride and groom were attired in their nightclothes and 3) the marriage took place at a crossroads.

SURE SOUNDS LIKE A PREMISE FOR A SHOTGUN WEDDING TO ME!  Needless to say, this article pretty much obliterated whatever romantic notions I had left regarding my ancestors’ founding of Mabee’s Corners.

Doesn’t it make ya’ wonder if great-great-great-great-great-grammy was knocked up, and that great-great-great-great-great-grandpappy wasn’t too thrilled about marryin’ her?  But bless their hearts!  I guess we all turned out all right anyway.  All I can say is, “Thanks,” and I hope life wasn’t too hard for them.

And those are my stories about Mabee’s Corners.

Lake Erie, North Shore

A few years ago we went east along Lake Erie, as far as Port Dover.  We started in St. Thomas.  It took us fourMap of Lake Erie, north shore coastline, St. Thomas to Port Dover days.

Coming back, we took larger roads.  It took about an hour but felt like a time travel machine.  My parents used to drive from Belmont, near St. Thomas, to Port Dover of an evening for fish and chips on the beach.

We went first to Port Stanley, planning to spend a couple days there.  But the cabins were full, so we thought well, let’s see what’s further east, say toward Port Burwell.  Stopped at Port Bruce and walked the beach.  Went to Port Burwell, walked the beach and into town.  Had an ice cream cone, and drove on.

We had a map, but basically just looked for the southernmost roads heading east.  Found villages we’d never heard of, places we’d heard of but never knew where they were.  We found Walsingham, where I knew my father’s people had lived but never knew where it was – ‘over that way’ with a vague wave to the east.

Port Rowan boat housesPort Rowan, where my dad was born.  Hilly, with big brick houses and little old frame houses.  A row of boat houses way out into the harbour.  Just looking like they’re there for photographers.  A perfect little “olde” downtown with small, independent businesses thriving among the chainstores.

Port Rowan popsicle stick lampA downtown Home Hardware that also sold locally-made items.  “Oh, a local man makes those,” the manager said when he saw me looking at a popsicle stick table lamp.  It was sitting among the commercially-made lamps and light fixtures.  We bought it.

Nearby, inland St. Williams, with a huge antique store and new Mennonite furniture showroom.  Must get business from all over the region – not enough people in St. Williams to furnish that many houses.

Turkey Point, a summer playground for party weekends.  But in September they were gone, leaving only a few people to enjoy the broad silky sand beach.  Since being there, I’ve learned that my father’s mother’s people were the first white settlers there.  Apparently, there’s a plaque marking the site where in 1794 Frederick Motel in Turkey PointMabee was buried beside his house, in a hollowed out log.  The first white burial of the first white man in Turkey Point.  I didn’t know that at the time we were there – just as well, we’d have had to tack on at least another 2 days to cover that.

Port Ryerse, a tiny village with a big past.  Now a small collection of quaint old houses and a wonderful used bookstore that rambles its way through one of these big old houses.  A historical plaque at the end of the road, in the woods bordering the lake cliff, depicting the town’s history as a port for transporting timber and coal across the lake to Ohio.

The Dover Rose, old fishing vessel at Port DoverPulling into Port Dover late afternoon – bright lights, big city!  Beachfront stores sleepy after the summer onslaught.  Wanting to roll up the awnings and pack up the flipflops and Harley Davidson emblazoned stuffed animals.  Wanting to hibernate until the hogs come back to town next Friday the 13th.  We looked at the harbour, the commercial vessels tied up, some for the season, some forever. Stayed the night, and ate fish and chips.

Next day, on to Fort Erie?  Quite a drive, at our present pace.  Would take near a week.  Nah, let’s go home and pick up the dog.  Almost dark, so no sightseeing.  To Simcoe.  Stay the night?  Doesn’t feel part of this trip – we know where it is on the map.  Some new cross-country back roads.  Can’t really see anything though, just placenames and road numbers on the signs.  “Oh, that’s where you turn for Langton, that’s where Judy used to live,” “well, look at that – Mabee’s Corners up there, I wonder if that’s where Grandma came from.”  Headlights tracking family history.

'Gold Coast' banner mapTen years later with more family history known to me, I want to do that trip again.  This time, I would know to stop in Houghton, Middleton, and many more villages that we passed through that trip.  Placenames that pop up over and over in the family records of the Angers, Mabees and Burwells.  This time, it would be for graveyards, farms and crossroads.  It will be fun, with a map and a mission.  That time, it was with a map and whimsy – not looking for anything and therefore just happy to see what was found.

The ‘banner map’ at bottom is from the website of Gold Coast Real Estate, thanks.  For more information Amazon link for Ron Brown Lake Erie bookon this area,  check out The Lake Erie Shore by Ron Brown. He’s got loads of books about the history of Ontario.

My cousin sent me this link to a song “Beautiful Port Dover” by Tia McGraff with photos by Earl Hartlen.  Both song and photos are beautiful.  Yes, there’s Friday 13th H-D photos, also a lot of the land, lake and fishing boats (my favourite is one called “Frisky” – nice name for a boat, I think).